depressed man sitting on a couch

If the cooling weather and shifts in temperature signaling winter’s approach make you feel blue, you may be showing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is a kind of depression induced by changes in the duration of and exposure to sunlight and weather, usually occurring in winter (but not always).

Many individuals get a less intense version of SAD often called the “winter blues.” It’s natural to feel a little blue in the winter season, but full SAD is more extreme — unlike the winter blues, SAD impacts your daily activities, negatively influencing how you feel and think.

From a medical perspective, it’s mostly unknown why some people experience SAD symptoms and others don’t. Some experts think that seasonal changes can confuse your body’s circadian rhythm — the biological clock that helps regulate how our bodies function during both sleeping and waking periods. The idea is that disturbances to this natural rhythm can cause us to feel recharged and attentive at certain times and sleepy or detached during other times.

If you or a loved one is experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, it can be a real challenge to find motivation and joy in the things you normally do. Let’s discuss some of the best ways to treat and reduce symptoms of SAD based on a few tips below:

How To Prevent And Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder

It’s very difficult to know when the first symptoms of SAD may happen. But once your doctor has diagnosed you with seasonal depression, you can make concerted efforts to reduce or even prevent symptoms in the future.

Prepare Your Mind In Autumn

It may seem silly at first, but setting aside time for mood-boosting behaviors can help you feel physically and psychologically more at peace and ultimately healthier, says psychologist Kim Burgess, PhD, creator of the Pediatric Psychology Center in Rockville, Maryland, and an adjunct associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences in Washington, D.C.

It’s important to prepare yourself for the winter period with good planning and activities in the fall season — doing enjoyable things, like starting group chats with friends, experimenting with new hobbies and indoor sports, and taking part in local activity clubs or community service events. Making time to participate in and get familiar with these activities before the cold sets in is a lot easier than trying to start once off the bat after snow has already fallen.

Chat With Your Doctor

Since SAD is a clinical type of depression, it requires an official diagnosis from a mental health professional. There are a wide range of screening questions that can aid with treating and understanding a patient’s depression, and your physician will be more able to figure out what kind you have.

If you do have SAD, a licensed professional can help you work through it more quickly and thoroughly than practically any other method. Your doctor will be able to figure out if taking medication would be beneficial or if there are other methods that would work better for your individual situation. 

Use A Light Therapy Lamp

Exposure to artificial light can be an effective form of therapy for some types of depression, including SAD. Such light helps keep your circadian rhythm stable and is often considered a strong initial treatment option for SAD, based on a review published in 2017 in the Einstein Journal of Biology and Medicine. One way to use bright light therapy is to invest in a light therapy lamp or box.

Alternatively known as phototherapy devices, these tools produce light that imitates sunshine and can help regulate degrees of SAD. The light made from therapy lamps is substantially brighter than what comes out of standard light bulbs, and its created with different wavelengths. To start using one, you’ll typically sit in front of the therapy light for approximately 20 to 30 minutes daily. If effective, this exposure will produce a chemical change in your brain that improves your mood and mitigates symptoms of SAD. 

Keep Up With Exercise And Nutrition

Engaging in committed exercise and keeping with a nutritious diet are fantastic ways to bolster your mood and energy levels for the entire winter season, potentially alleviating SAD. Exercise can also help take out the weight gain that is common with SAD, and if you get started with a routine before winter hits, you may be more vigilant about continuing to exercise throughout the season. If you can’t exercise outside because of the cold or weather, try out a treadmill, stationary bike, or elliptical machine set near a window at home or at the local gym.

Living with Seasonal Affective Disorder can make it extremely challenging when it comes to maintaining your happiness and staying away from depression. If you or a family member are experiencing symptoms of SAD, the TMS Center of the Lehigh Valley is dedicated to helping you treat and manage depression so you can live life to its fullest and healthiest potential. Contact us today for more information about our treatments and meet with our experienced team of professionals.

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